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5 Powerful Writing Books For Mastering The Art of Web Copywriting

5 Powerful Writing Books For Mastering The Art of Web Copywriting
Words sell your wares online… it’s true! Even if you load your website with images and rely on a high-res Instagram account, you still need well-written captions and concise CTAs.

Create a website minus any copy and see what happens. I bet Google spiders won’t crawl your pages.  Your website won’t rank well in SERPs.  And traffic won’t come your way.

Here’s why: because Google recognizes words and not images.  Words are the true currency of the web.

But of course you need to string pearls and not potatoes together to create compelling content for your online wares. Whether it be it your product descriptions, website text, marketing eblasts, blog posts or newsletters, believe me when I say that every word you use has a definite role to play when it comes to your conversion rate.

If your words don’t mean a thing to users, it would defeat the very purpose of coming up with a good product or service in the first place, right?

But given that there are over 1,000,000,000 websites in the world competing for attention, it’s intimidating even trying to write well, let alone actually doing it. Here are five powerful books that will help you get on the right track.

1. ‘Web Copy That Sells’ by Maria Veloso

Do you think web copywriting and print copywriting are the same thing?

If, yes, then you are wrong my friend.

And you don’t have to just take my word for it. Read Web Copy That Sells by Mario Veloso and all your doubts will be allayed.

For me, this book was an eye-opener. As a fan of fictional books, I would go to great lengths to make sure my business blog posts sounded like one of the authors I was currently stuck on… be it J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Clive Cussler, Kathy Reichs or Cecelia Ahern.

But then, Mario Veloso’s book came to my attention and I thought, what am I doing?! Sense, finally, struck.

Principles of print shouldn’t be applied to the web; the book made this point loud and clear. Your web copy is intended for one purpose: to make sales, not to win some Man Booker or Pulitzer Prize. You’ve still got to craft the copy but it should be fairly concise and to-the-point.

Bottom line: Cut the clutter. Inject some emotion.

That said, don’t stop reading fictional stuff. Do not, I repeat, do not stop reading fictional stuff. Because it gets your emotional juices flowing. And sometimes, you can derive some amazing concepts out of it. Check out my previous post here, which was heavily influenced by the Harry Potter series.

Key takeaways:

  • Write advertorial copy – no direct selling messages, please.
  • Use plain and simple words that will appeal to your target audience.
  • Keep the content scannable for people who read on smartphones or tablets.
  • Focus on bite-sized chunks and avoid corporate speak.
  • Use text boxes while introducing stories, testimonials and case studies.
  • Employ the cliffhanger principle to make people click to another page.

This is the ultimate book in web copywriting, in my opinion.  It really gets you thinking about how to write perfect web copy and the psychology behind it. It teaches you how to mathematically calculate the selling ability of your website and trains you to write copy that gets readers salivating for your product or service.

2. ‘On Writing Well’ by William Zinsser

If you are planning to read only one book on writing this year, then this should be the book. I simply cannot stress enough how much this classic text on writing can help you improve your writing style. It’s practically a bible for those who love words.

When I came across it, I was super desperate to make my technical copy sound… well… super technical.

On Writing Well helped me figure out how and since then, honestly speaking, my writing has changed for the better.

It helps you focus enough on using short words, shorter sentences and shorter paragraphs. It teaches you that just because you’re writing technical copy, there’s no need to overstuff it with technical jargon that makes no sense to the general population (i.e., non-technical folks).

This is important because the majority of online readers include non-technical folks as well, and it’s equally important for them to figure what all the fuss is all about, especially if you are looking for more ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ for your post on social media.

Furthermore, the writing principles included in this book are generic in nature and thus can be applied to all domains of writing.

Key takeaways:

  • If any technical expert says your piece is ‘dumb’, that’s their problem, not yours. Strengthen your piece with your own experience and be sincere. Your best credential is yourself.
  • Think small. Decide what corner of your subject you’re going to bite off and be content to cover it and stop.
  • Express your opinions. Use ‘I’ wherever you can.

Find more about this book: The 30th Anniversary Edition On Writing Well by William Zinsser

3. ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ by Stephen King

The lover of night and the macabre, Stephen King, has no fewer than 66 non-fiction books to his name. On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft is his one non-fiction offering and it’s insanely popular. Writers everywhere use it as a resource to read, think and act upon.

It’s part memoir, part craft of writing. It details King’s early years in the company of a single mother who encouraged him to write his own original stuff; his constant tug-of-war with his insecurities; his experience working in a laundry while writing his popular novel Carrie; and writing 2,000 words every damn day.

There’s a complete chapter on King’s writing ‘toolbox’ as well. However, the most important takeaway is his attitude to writing; which can be explained thus: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”

Simply put, writing is hard work. Be prepared to put in the hours.

Key takeaway:

  • “One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little ashamed of your short ones.”

4. ‘Syntax and Sin’ by Constance Hale

“One pearl is better than a whole necklace of potatoes.” That’s the opening line of Syntax and Sin and it had me hooked from the get-go – that’s why I used it in the start of this post.

The author, Constance Hale, aptly describes empty words as ‘potatoes’ and rich words as ‘pearls’.  In her opinion, only a few words are fit to be strung into a sentence and it’s the job of the writer to identify them and pull them together – word by word.

The book partly deals with grammar rules, and partly with tips on how to produce ‘sinfully’ good prose. And, if you suffer from the misconceived notion that grammar books are dry and stuffy, rest assured that Syntax and Sin is nothing of the sort.

It’s one of the hippest grammar books I’ve ever read.  The writing is out of this world, and the grammar lessons are extraordinary. It makes you want to write. It’s so inspirational.

Some of the examples of how to write the ‘perfect lead’ literally give you awestruck moments thanks to Hale’s straightforward approach and matter-of-fact tone.

If you are hoping to make the lead sentence of your blog posts stop the reader dead in their tracks, read this book.

Key takeaway:

  • “One pearl is better than a whole necklace of potatoes.”

5. ‘Penguin Guide To Punctuation’ by R.L. Trask

Do you know exactly when to use the capital letter ‘P’ for President and small letter ‘p’ for president? Do you know about the four types of commas? Or do you worry that your web copy is riddled with tiny errors that could cost you credibility?

If so, then you need to go order the Penguin Guide to Punctuation. The book literally proves that big things come in small packages. All 156 pages in length, it sheds light on the proper usage of colons, semi-colons, apostrophes, quotation marks, italics, boldface and much more in an easily digestible way.

This book is actually the only reference tool you need for grammar and punctuation.

Key takeaways:

  • Differences in American usage and British usage are very precise, and very important.
  • As a general rule, never use an apostrophe in writing plural forms. It is absolutely wrong to write pizza’s, video’s, fine wine’s, cream tea’s, and mountain bike’s.

Conclusion     

Whether it’s one of them or all of them, the books above are of indispensable value to aspiring or indeed seasoned copywriters. Two other books, On Writing Life by Annie Dilliard and The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, are also great resources and well worth a read, especially the latter one.

Now, it’s your turn. Tell me, which writing books have inspired you to come up with better web copy, and other marketing communications?

I would love to hear what has helped you shoot up your dull sales.

Guest Author: Jini Maxin is a senior writer at OpenXcell – a top Mobile App Development Company. She has a masters degree in journalism and mass communications and is a frequent contributor to several top online publications and websites. Her favorite pastimes include reading books (both fiction and nonfiction) and being introspective. Get in touch with her on Linkedin and Twitter.

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Comments

  • Hi Jini,

    All the books look awesome.

    But I betcha that Stephen King book is something else. Because the guy is a purist, being so skilled at pushing people’s emotional buttons with his writing.

    That is copy, after all, right? Pushing folk’s buttons in a positive way. Or tapping into some pain point, drilling down deeper and inspiring people to take action, to ease their pain.

    Good copy is a win-win for both parties. Sure you prosper as readers take your calls to action but beyond that, you render a useful service and connect with folks who could really benefit from what you have to offer.

    Thanks for sharing Jini.

    Ryan